Leaders of questions, not leaders of answers

24 Jan 2018

by Annie Grant


‘Leaders should be leaders of questions, not leaders of answers,’ Kay Bedford OBE, former headteacher at Swiss Cottage told senior leaders attending session 2 of the 2017/18 Aspiring Leaders course. ‘If colleagues become dependent on you for answers, there can be no growth.’

She was introducing  the first of a two-day session, focusing on mentoring and coaching, as way of empowering staff to hold themselves to account for implementing the school’s vision.

Kay told participants that schools achieve the best for their pupils when staff work together as a team. But for this to happen, she stressed, staff need to be very clear about what is expected of them. ‘Where teachers cannot hold themselves to account, the school must support them to do so, but where staff won’t hold themselves to account, then they need to know that there will be consequences, ‘ Kay explained.’


The rest of the day was devoted to mentoring and coaching. Kay introduced a coaching-mentoring model and modelled the mentoring process with participant Kate, a senior leader from a school in Jersey. The group looked on, noting what Kay did to help Kate ‘tell her story’. At the end, Kate was surprised to be asked to identify a change issue to discuss during the coaching phase of the process, and to draw a picture of how, ideally, she would like that area of her practice to be.

Margaret Mulholland from Swiss Cottage introduced Day 2 of the course. She was followed by Simon Williams from LEAD who spent the morning helping participants reflect on feedback from their 360˚ leadership behaviours assessment. Participants thought about how they could build on the feedback they received, making changes, where necessary.

In the afternoon, Kay Bedford explained the coaching phase of the coaching-mentoring model, she introduced on Day 1. Kate had drawn her picture and, using this, Kay demonstrated how she would coach Kate to think about how she might move from her current position to the ‘ideal’ position that she had drawn.


For the rest of the session, participants practised the mentoring-coaching process  in threes, taking turns to be coach, coachee and observer.

The day ended with a short plenary with delegates feeding back on their experience of the mentoring-coaching process. Kay urged participants to go back to school and practice. ‘When coaching becomes part of the school culture, it doesn’t only take place in coaching sessions,’ she explained. ‘It can be just five minutes in the corridor, because it has become a natural part of the way staff interact with each other.’


Read the previous blog from our Aspiring Leaders Programme, ‘What kind of leader are you?’.

For more information about Aspiring Leaders 18/19 and to register, click here.

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